The whole idea of Girth and Mirth-Belgium comes, of course, from the USA. My name is Philippe and I have always been attracted to big men. Everytime I went into a gay bookstore or sex-shop, I inquired about magazines or videos featuring big men, and always those salesmen were showing me issues of COLT with ugly body-builders... So the only big men I could see were thru tv, straight porno movies, and of course by outside cruising, or also in the Dinant sauna in Brussels, famous for his mixed customers, of every ages, weights or races. Until...
One day in 1988, I was in a gay bookstore from Amsterdam called The Bronx. The owner, a very nice bearded cub called Fred, was very kean on trying to find something that I'd like, showing me the Colt collection, and one video featuring John Holmes, where you can see for 15 seconds a hairy chubby dressed as a harem-guardian (is "eunuque" an english word ?) but with his clothes on all the time ! Finally he said "oh maybe I got this" and pulled out from behind a pile of magazines an old copy of a magazine called Chiron Rising. I discovered the very first printed pictures of big men I had ever seen. I bought two issues and decided to write and subscribe. As I had many pictures of my lovers, I offered CR to publish it, and I started providing them with pictures from Belgian fatties.
Later on, I saw in CR some adverts for a thing named "Girth and Mirth of New-York". I didn't know what it was, but as I was supposed to go to the States in '90, on tour with a rock band I was managing, I wrote to it. I thought it would maybe be a sauna or a bar, or even a rent-boys or escort thing... I was surprised when I got a letter back, with a newsletter explaining it was a club of people getting together, fat people and also people who like fat guys. That was the first time I saw the name "Chubby". I later found out I was one myself. As the newsletter included a list of several other clubs thourough the States, I wrote to all of them, indicating the tour dates where I was supposed to be in their respective towns. I got answers in time from Golden Gate Connection in San Francisco, G&M-Chicago and New-York.
So during my tour in april/may 1990, I managed to meet people from those clubs and I learned what they were doing and how they were working. I found out they were publishing a monthly newsletter made of photocopies, but full of informations interesting for local people but absolutely of no interest for foreign people. I told them they shouldn't expect many subscribers from overseas if they cannot publish once or twice a-year a kind of "special edition" at the destination of foreign people overseas, offering accomodation exchanges, showing picures, etc. I offered my help to distribute those newsletters in Europe, but it looked like no club was really interested.
Back in Belgium in june, I wrote back to the people I had met, insisting on the opportunity to open their "market" to Europe, as I knew many people who could be interested in such a club. Then came the idea : "I have the contacts, I have a po box, I have an office, phone, fax, so why shouldn't I try to start it here ? All I need is a few flyers and goodwill !". It was all done. I knew I could do it.
Indeed, I had already created clubs and little newsletters when I was a younger. When I was 12 years old, I was president of a zoological group studying reptiles. At 13, I started listening to rock and created a small newsletter made of photocopies inside my school. At 14, I was working for a free radio and writing my own reviews of rock artists in the local newspaper. At 17, I was working for the Townhouse, organizing the biggest rock-contest ever, showing 20 bands live on stage-a-day. At 19, I was releasing my own records and booking a tour of 51 dates thourough the world... I knew what organizing was. So I had the idea of the club, and one minute later I knew it was already started.
Then the first miracle happened. I received a cheque of BEF.60000,- (about $2000) for my author's right of 6 months from my latest LP. I didn't really need the money for anything, so I decided that instead of starting from scratch, I could maybe start with a higher level. I had a nice letter-paper printed, I had two flyers made and printed, bought a better answering machine, opened a phone line and wrote the text for what would become soon the n°0 of a magazine; I named it FAT ANGEL TIMES, because it meant something, according to our logo featuring four little chubby angels, then because it sounded like "financial times" and of course also because the initials were F.A.T. I made a selection of pictures, typed the text, and gave it to a printer, and there we had a first newsletter, better-looking that any of the ones I had seen in the States, and supposed to come quarterly. I mailed it to every address of big men and chasers I knew.
Then came the second miracle : the response was immediate and we had 30 members within a few weeks. We planned the first meeting for 21st of September in the Dinant. I swore to myself always to reply letters within 3 days and to write to anyone, including people I hated, because my personnal feelings shouldn't have any effect on the club's life (also because of that, I used the name Steve to cover my identity to some people or organizations that wouldn't help the club if they'd know it was my initiative). I also decided never to use the club to cruise chubbies myself directly, but only to use the personnal ads and the meetings. My third rule was to keep the names and addresses of members strictly confidential, and never to give anybody's address or phone to anybody else, even if it's the Pope or the Queen of England or their boyfriend ! Those rules were never broken.
We offered many services to Big People, such as advise on where to find big size clothes, how to defend themselves if threatened or ostracised because of their weight, the use of CPAP against sleep apnea, good places to eat healthy food, how to gain weight graciously and never force your body in any ways, how to feel better. Quickly we saw that making people's sexuality better was solving 80% of their problems, since people need to FEEL GOOD about themselves, and good sex and love helps that A LOT. So we offered social encounters such as dinners, coffee meetings, pool activities, visits, trips, , as well as potentially sexual ones in the sauna. That was, for us, THE ONLY ADULT WAY to lead a successfull association for big people, is to listen to their needs, and meeting people who will like them, for friendship, love and/or sex, is one of the most important needs.
From the beginning, we tried to promote international exchanges by using multiple languages inside the magazine and by building a "hospitality service" to allow members to travel abroad and find accomodations in friend's houses. We also wished not to separate personnal ads according to their author's home land, to mix it all together and let people meet pals or find lovers in any country.
Shortly after I began the club, I heard a similar club had started in London. I wrote and got in touch with Paul Murphy, a nice fellow who was telling me his club was getting soooo big and the meetings were soooo busy. We decided to organize an event for the english club in Brussels, and named it "Allied Bear Forces I". The second issue of the FAT came in november and featured full promotion for the ABF event. Paul was expecting 50 men to come, only 11 crossed the Channel. Hopefully many people came from Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Slovenia, and even the United States, and we were about 45 to spend a hot week-end in Brussels. Paul fell in love with a certain Steve (from Washington), left to the States short after that, and G&M-London disappeared.
We released our first special picture issue in december '90 and the Fat n°3 in february. At the beginning of 1991, G&M-Belgium had 150 members and our May issue had a picture from Joseph (who became a big star since then!) and two colours on the cover. A team of people wanting to participate to the club and help was created and named "board of directors".
Other clubs were forming in Germany, Holland and a kind of "movement" seemed to start in Europe. I decided it was time to organize a first major european convention. We planned it for october and named it EBMC'91. I went to Boston for the American Convergence and saw that our club was getting very well known overseas. I distributed information about all the european clubs and did my best to promote our movement. Boston was big fun but I had some critics to give about the cost and the events. I printed it in our december issue and had lots of problems afterwards with american clubs simply because I had said my opinion. I learned later that it's better to highlight positive points so you never hurt anyone. I also learned later that the points I didn't like in Boston were about the same at all the American Convergences, and that it is more a question of taste, personnal view, age and dynamism of the organisors then anything else, and that it was unuseful to try to change it.
EBMC'91 was a very big success and many americans who came over gave very positive comments, and Ed Plunkett, one of the founders of the G&M of New-York club and of the whole american movement, told me on the monday morning, at the end of the convergence, a sentence I will never forget : "Americans have many things to learn from you now!". That made my day !
In 1991 and 1992, G&M-Belgium organized many things, like trips to Eurodisney, a stay at theBelgian sea coast, a kind of "euro-bear tour" passing thru Paris, Köln, Amsterdam, Berlin, etc. We also organized other International gatherings like Allied Bear Forces II and III in London and Köln, a trip to Paris, etc. We helped new clubs to start by providing pictures, artworks, information ad by promoting them thru the Fat Angel Times, which became, after only a few issues the best reference book for big men and admirers on this continent and whose format was later copied by many clubs even in the States.
Since then, G&M-B became an official and legal non-profit company and has organized EBMC'92 with 162 participants, and initiated thebirth of the Federation of European Big Men's Clubs, whose duty is to promote and control the births of new clubs in Europe and to improve relationships with the American clubs and Federation.
We organized many events the next year, including EBMC'93 , which gathered 178 people in Brussels again.At the end of 1993, we had over 330 members and subscribers now, and are proud to be the second largest club in the world (after New-York). Our magazine was 52 glossy pages and looked better and better, and our models started to be contacted by other publications or video makers. We had articles in all the biggest gay magazines in Europe and made members in Japan, Australia and the ex-Soviet Union. However, we kept in mind that our goal is not to be "so incredibly famous and big", but to help people who are isolated because of their Girth, and to let them have fun, get out of their shell, make friends and join us in a spirit of Mirth.
We started to produce videos and created the "Hot Bears" serie. Our second tape, Hot Bearrs II, was released by Bulk Male in the States as "Wild sex in the working class" and via a private company in France as "La Fosse aux Ours". The third title of the Hot Bears serie went out as "Midnight rendez-vous" in the USA and was very successfull.
On our impulse, new clubs started in many different cities. One of the best ones was created by two of our members, Geert van Dijk and his ex lover Ben, and organized meetings in Eindhoven. Because of that, we lost a part of our members, and, after reaching over 400 in 1994, we went down to 295 the next year. We managed to keep up, as our costs for producing the magazine had increased and with the help of the members, and the sales of our videos, we survived. But when we lost these members, I was in facts happy, that others clubs would prosper, in the same spirit I had started G&M-B.
In 1994, we organized several get togethers in Paris and many other activities, and the EBMC again, and that year it was hosted by the Brussels HILTON. A great step for us, after being in 2 stars chain hotels. We had a beautiful hospitality suite and it was GORGEOUS ! We decided that it was time for us to stop doing the Convergence every year and the Hamburg club proposed to organize it. Ben Verhagen was elected President and the Federation FEB became a much more solid concept. Unfortunately in 1995, G&M-Hamburg's treasurer ran away witrh a huge pack of money and the club collapsed. There was no EBMC that year, and it was a dark time for the european movement.
Also in 1995, we started our activities on the Internet, opening an e-mail address and a big interactive home-page for chubbies and chasers. In a few weeks, over 40000 people accessed it.
We are organized the EBMC in october 1996 again, in the biggest hotel of Belgium, the ITT SHERATON TOWERS. It was be the 5 biggest and hottest days of Europe with a total of 319 participants.
In 1997, the EBMC took place in Barcelona. We organized it from here ! It gathered 305 people.
In the meantime, our web site became "THE" reference for big men and bears all over the world. Hits are over the 2 millions since the creation of the page, and it is still TOTALLY FREE, something we are really proud of.
I also created a virtual world for bears called BEARWORLD. It has a sauna, a discussion forum, a vast Chubby Museum and also the Bearworld Art Center which carried already 5 exhibitions of paintings from international artists. It's located at 8065S 8065E in Alphaworld, one of the virtual worlds of the Active Worlds Community (www.activeworlds.com).
It's a virtual 3D world with buildings where you can go and meet other bears and talk, walk around, sightsee and chat. Many visitors decided to build houses around and are contributing to make this place "live" in a real way.
In october 1998, I did the EBMC again in Brussels, but for 6 days, in the Sheraton again, and we had 320 participants.
In 1999, the EBMC moved to Germany, organized by the local club Heavy Teddies, and then came back to Brussels in 2000 with 406 participants.
We released the 5th and 6th title of the Hot Bears serie and the first two volumes of a new serie called CHUB STRIPPERS.
The Fat Angel Times now has 49 issues out and we have members and subscribers in 27 countries. On June 10th 2000, G&M-Belgium became 10 YEARS OLD.
The EBMC 2001 has been organized by us in BUDAPEST (Hungary) in november 2001 and was a good success with 316 attendants. Despite the terrible events from September 11th, all our american friends came anyway !